One of the struggles that we all have is living the Christian life completely. Both atheists and believers often misunderstand what it means to be a Christian. Those of us who claim to be Christians do not claim to be perfect or better than anyone else. My favorite analogy is that I am called as a Christian to be faithful to my wife. That is within my power. It is not within my ability to be perfect to my wife.
Over the years, there have been situations where I could have been unfaithful to my wife and probably gotten away with it. As a speaker on college and university campuses for 53 years, people opposed to my ministry have made deliberate attempts to trap me by giving me opportunities to be unfaithful. With God’s help, I have been able to avoid those traps.
By the same token, my relationship with my wife has been far from perfect. I have failed in so many ways that I could write a book about how husbands fail in their marriages. Those failures are of things I should have done and didn’t. I am ashamed to say that there were things I did that could be called abusive.
The same is true of my relationship with Jesus Christ. I have tried to be consistent in living the Christian life, but I have been a long way from perfect in my life and ministry. I have not always “turned the other cheek.” I have not always “loved my enemy.” Even more important, I have left undone things that I should have done. Does this mean I am rejected by God and doomed to the same end as the atheists with whom I have debated? Certainly not!
My greatest encouragement in this matter is the writings of the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:15-23. Paul tells us, “I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate….For the good that I want to do, I do not do, and I practice the same evil that I do not want to be a part of…I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body waging war against the law of my mind…” So the atheist will say, “How does your being a Christian change anything? You are just like me.” That is true. We all have the same battle, but living the Christian life, I have two things the atheist doesn’t have.
(1) I have guidance in my life that works. I know that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I have help in not actively engaging in sin after sin after sin. The Holy Spirit has given me solutions that help me avoid sin. I still make mistakes, and I am sure that my carelessness and stupidity make Jesus weep sometimes, just as at times it makes my wife weep. But as a Christian, I am programmed to do things that are against human selfish desires.
(2) I know that I am forgiven by Jesus. After describing his struggles, Paul ends by saying, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” He answers that by telling us, “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” I am no better than anyone else, but I am forgiven, and I avoid the destruction of a bad conscience and a guilt-ridden life. Living the Christian life, I also have the motivation to avoid repeating the damage produced by a selfish life.
— John N. Clayton © 2021